A Serious Man
Directed/Produced/Written by Joel & Ethan Coen.
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, etc.
109 minutes, Relativity/Studio Canal, 2009.

***

So the Coen brothers are essentially absurdist filmmakers. Their narratives, even when cleanly concluded, never have the closure or satisfaction of fairy-tales. Life is a puzzle; those who survive in their limited happiness do so within a sort of obliviousness. A Serious Man is a look at what happens when the obliviousness crumbles, and one is vulnerable to the way things really are. There is no true compassion in one’s community and no answers (or end) to the hardships that face us.

A Serious Man is basically the story of Job from the Old Testament. Suffer, suffer, then suffer some more. The story questions God a lot, which is in contrast to the original story; but maybe acknowledging God’s existence at all is the modern equivalent — especially in the face of calamity.

But what I want to know is, why the questions poised to God? Not because they won’t be answered, but because they are still not very serious questions. Questions to any God at all are still an attempt to absolve personal responsibility, not for one’s own well-being or lack thereof, but for one’s spiritual existence. If there is any God with a personality, this God is just as infallible as any individual personality would be (no shit, right?). These kinds of questions, which Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman loved to toss around, sound like the bleating of sheep. It is an attempt to kindle camaraderie amongst the un-mystically inclined intelligentsia, who secretly wish to believe they have that spark. I suppose there is some sort of term for this brand of irony, where an artist or entertainer’s very patrons make up the subjects of their satire.

What we learn from the movie, is that there are no answers to these questions, but suffering is an infinite resource. Furthermore, when asking them the hard questions, people just want you to fuck off. They won’t tell you straight-up that there are no answers, they will just find your presence repellent, a dead weight. The answer: please take your time to smell the flowers.

Anyway, this is one of the most grim movies that exists, but is still really heavy on the heartstrings. The Coen bros are the true modern heirs of the absurdist/existentialist theater. Aronofsky is a shadow of these guys, if only evidenced by the multitude of humorous, horrifying and endearing qualities almost every Coen bros. movie has by comparison. But it all remains in a very empirical setting, much like Woody Allen.

It’s very… athiestic.

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